Learning From Noah – Ray Stone

Ray Stone

God “spared not the Old World, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the Flood upon the World of the ungodly…” (2 Pet. 2:5). Thus Peter honors the man Noah, one of the greatest characters of the Old Testament.

Most all the World, even children, know the story of Noah—how, some 1500 years or so after Creation, mankind generally had become completely evil: “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the Earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). This sad state of affairs had come about by, among other things, Godly people intermarrying with the ungodly: “The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose” (Gen. 6:2). There’s a preliminary lesson right there: Even today, marrying a non-believer is a risky proposition. It isn’t a sin but the apostle Paul addresses such a case (1 Cor. 7:12-13) and shows at least God’s acceptance of it, if not approval. But be warned by this early example: A worldly spouse can wield great influence on the believing partner. All too often, the tendency is for “evil to overcome good” rather than Paul’s preference (Rom. 12:21).

In any case, things had deteriorated to the point that “it repented the Lord that He had made man on the Earth, and it grieved Him at His heart” (Gen. 6:6). But even in that extreme circumstance, there were the “faithful few”—eight, to be exact (1 Pet. 3:20)—Noah and his wife, plus their three sons and their wives, righteous women whom they had managed to find, or convert, from among the evil multitudes. As hard as it is to imagine, there were no others. Think about that for a moment: In all the world, only eight people faithful to their Maker. Next time you hear someone fretting about how evil our world has become, how far down society has sunk, remind them of Gen. 6. There are without doubt far more than eight righteous souls on earth today. Don’t ever think society is as bad as it’s ever been and can’t get any worse—because it isn’t, and it certainly could! In fact, it just might get as bad as Gen. 6 again someday. Jesus asked a rather chilling rhetorical question once: “When the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the Earth?” (Luke 18:8). But meanwhile, here’s a good exercise for you, to keep things in perspective. Don’t dwell on all the evil in the World, but look at all the good!

Read Phil. 4:8 and measure all the good you see (people, events, acts, intents, attempts) against those eight lonely righteous people of pre-Flood days—you’re bound to feel a little more upbeat about the world we live in today. God will protect His faithful few (see Gen. 19:16-17), so He commissioned Noah to build the now-famous Ark, a sort of barge designed—not to sail, but simply to float—large enough for him and his family, as well as representative survivors of all land life (Gen. 7:23) to preserve God’s original creation. The Flood was world-wide, don’t ever question that. It’s what the Bible says (Gen. 6:17; 7:19; 2 Pet. 3:6).

And so Noah set about obeying God’s directive. He was allotted 120 years for the task (Gen. 6:3). But ship-building wasn’t all Noah did for that century-plus. Peter calls him a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5). That shouldn’t be a surprise; it is understandable that he would try to warn his friends, acquaintances, perhaps extended family, about the calamity to come. This may well be what that troublesome passage by Peter is actually referring to:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water ( 1 Pet. 3:18-20).

If this means Jesus went into Hell during His three days in the tomb and preached (“brought good tidings”?) to the lost spirits there, it makes no sense at all—why would He do that; what purpose would it serve? Once you’re dead, your fate is sealed (cf. Luke 16:19-31). It wouldn’t do anyone any good, just totally wasted effort. But God, being a perfect Being, doesn’t waste anything (an accepted attribute: His “parsimony”). Consider instead: 1 Pet. 3:18 says Jesus went “in the Spirit”—that indicates a figurative use of the term “went and preached.” The subjects of that preaching were “spirits in prison,” that’s present tense; but they “aforetime (past tense) were disobedient…” (v. 20). That’s when they needed preaching: when they were disobedient. And it even tells us when that disobedience was: “when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing…”—that 120-year period of time (Gen. 6:3). I suggest Peter was writing about spirits, souls, “now in prison”, in his time; who heard the preaching of Christ “in the Spirit” back in their days of disobedience on Earth—and it was done through the agency of Noah as he preached by the inspiration of that Spirit. God gave them every opportunity to learn the truth and repent; they had no excuse.

What, do you suppose, was the subject matter of Noah’s preaching? Not a single sermon of his is recorded, of course—we’re left to conjecture. Yet we can make some safe assumptions, since God’s desire for mankind has never changed: Obedience to His will. For instance:

      1. You just know he preached repentance. That was John the Baptist’s first message to the Jews of his day (Matt. 3:1-2; Luke 3:3). And it was certainly a constant theme of the prophets of God that would follow long after Noah (see Jer. 3:12-14; 8:6; Hosea 12:6; Jonah 3:8; Zeph. 3:7; Mal. 3:7 for a few examples). Jesus Himself emphasized it in unmistakable language: “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

      2. No doubt Noah preached remembrance, another common theme of Godly men: “Call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions…” (Heb. 10:32) “Cast not away therefore your confidence…” (v. 35) “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen…” (Rev. 2:5). In Noah’s case, it was a unique circumstance; they were not that far removed from the Garden of Eden! It was surely still in mankind’s memory; it may well have still been in existence. Perhaps they could even look upon it from afar, maybe even see the Cherubim there guarding the entrance, keeping man out of it (Gen. 3:24). What a visual aid that would have been! “Remember what you once had.”

      3. Noah certainly preached a Judgment to come. His very life’s work, building the ark, was a daily testimony to God’s coming Judgment upon the World. He would surely have often repeated God’s words, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the Earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air: for it repenteth Me that I have made them” (Gen. 6:7). He would give them the chance to hear, over and over again, God’s intent because of their wickedness: “And behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the Earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life…” (v. 17)—“You’ve brought this on yourselves!”

      4. But Noah, as every faithful preacher does, would hold out a ray of hope to them: God protects His faithful! As it would be at Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19), when ultimately only three persons proved faithful. As few as ten would have spared the whole cities (Gen. 18:32), but only three were found—God still spared those three, Lot and his two daughters, from that destruction. He had Noah build the ark to spare him and his family. Don’t you know, if any others had responded to Noah’s preaching and repented, God would have made similar provision to save them as well? Make room for them in the ark, or have them build another one, or something. But we don’t read of such, because He didn’t, because there weren’t any, beyond Noah’s eight. Yet the possibility was always there, and I’m sure Noah offered it, right up until Genesis 7:15, when Noah and the animals entered the ark, “and the Lord shut them in.”

So: What do we learn from Noah?

1) One very strong, very encouraging lesson: This world, as bad as it may be, doesn’t yet hold a candle to the World of Noah’s day! Some today pessimistically consider our World to be as bad as it’s ever been and couldn’t get any worse—but they’re wrong: it isn’t, and it certainly could! Just a glance at Noah’s World affirms that. That world held only eight souls righteous before God; the most rabid pessimist would have to concede there’s multitudes more than that today! That’s not to excuse anyone’s sins, or deny the social evils we observe, but does show how much worse it could be. We should work to prevent or at least postpone such a sorry state as Noah endured. In that light, a good exercise might be to consider all the good in the world rather than all the evil—and that’s just Phil. 4:8 in action: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Noah couldn’t, outside his own family—but we can. Be grateful for that reality, and dwell on it to boost your optimism.

2) Learn that God takes care of His own. He gives us encouragement when we’re discouraged (Heb. 13:5-6); a way of escape when we’re tempted to sin (1 Cor. 10:13); a promise that “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4) and the promise of ultimate happiness and contentment in Heaven, for eternity (Rev. 21:4).

Noah was a shipbuilder—and a “preacher of righteousness.” Remember Noah’s preaching, and realize every faithful Gospel preacher today dwells on these same truths—for they are the Bible: Repentance, Remembrance, and the Judgment to come.

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Author: Editor

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